Empowering children

Many parents choose Ottawa-area Montessori schools, which are markedly different from the traditional classroom. Sheryl Bennett-Wilson explains the appeal of this popular, child-focused philosophy.

Why choose a Montessori school?

Ask Katherine Poyntz, executive director of the Canadian Council of Montessori Administrators, and she’ll say the reason is simple: a Montessori education encourages a lifelong love of learning.

“Montessori is different,” says Poyntz. “We really do focus on children’s learning, as opposed to teachers teaching.”

The founder of the Montessori philosophy, Dr. Maria Montessori, put it this way: “The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’ ”

Often, parents consider Montessori after their child has been in a traditional school system. The Montessori classroom is markedly different.

“Many parents are quite surprised by the mixed-age community in a Montessori classroom,” says Poyntz. “Our older students mentor and act as role models for the younger students, and the classroom atmosphere is very calm. It’s more like a family learning community.”

Sharleen McCorrister, principal of The Greenwoods Academy in Kanata, has been a Montessori teacher for over 20 years. Her own daughter is enrolled in a Montessori school.

“Those early years are so important for young children,” says McCorrister. “Even at 18 months, in the Montessori toddler program, we can see that children are happy to learn.”

She also emphasizes the child-focused philosophy. “Montessori is not at all teacher-centred,” says McCorrister. “It’s all about observing the child and making a decision, based on their performance, when to move into the next level of learning.”

And she says the encouragement younger students get from the older students is like a “positive pat on the back.”

McCorrister suggests parents thinking about enrolling their child in the Montessori system spend an observation day to see how the classroom functions, see the students working and observe how their child interacts.

Poyntz also suggests parents do their homework before enrolling their child in a Montessori program, and that it’s important to understand the philosophy and know that this is a partnership for educating your child.

She also suggests paying a visit to the school and look for mixed ages, how the children work individually, whether they’re engaged, and whether the teachers come to the child’s level. Montessori in its true form is an atmosphere of enjoyment, respect and social engagement, she says.

“Montessori is really all about empowering children. Its focus is on giving children the tools to integrate life skills into what they are learning, give them the responsibility of what they’ve learned, and turn learning into a lifelong passion.”

It’s important to note the name Montessori is not trademarked.

She advises parents to find out which schools offer education in Montessori style, and which adhere to the original philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori.

Find out more about Montessori programs from the Canadian Council of Montessori Administrators: www.ccma.ca.


Dr. Maria Montessori

Born in Chiaravalle in the Province of Ancona in 1870, Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952) was the first woman to practice medicine in Italy, having graduated from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Rome in 1896.

As a physician, Dr. Montessori was in touch with young children and became profoundly interested in their development.

Through careful and exhaustive scrutiny, she realized that children construct their own personalities as they interact with their environment.

She also observed the manner in which they learned as they spontaneously chose and worked with the auto-didactic (self-correcting) materials she provided.

Her approach to education stemmed from a solid grounding in biology, psychiatry and anthropology. She studied children of all races and cultures in many countries around the world.

She continued her observations throughout her life, widening and deepening her understanding until her death in 1952.

Life’s Work

Maria Montessori opened her first Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) in one of the very poorest areas in Rome, the then-notorious Quartiere di San Lorenzo.

In 1909, she gave her first Montessori course, expecting to have only Italian teachers as students. To her amazement, people attended from many different countries.

Probably that was the origin of what would become a serious handicap in the evolution of Montessori pedagogy.

“Since the beginning Montessori pedagogy has been appropriated, interpreted, misinterpreted, exploited, propagated, torn to shreds and the shreds magnified into systems, reconstituted, used, abused and disabused, gone into oblivion and undergone multiple renaissances,” Renilde Montessori (Maria Montessori’s youngest grandchild) has said.

Although Montessori pedagogy is known as the Montessori Method, it is not a method of education; in other words, it is not a program for teachers to apply.

Maria Montessori was a scientist, and was highly spiritual in her pursuit of truth. She studied medicine, specializing in psychiatry and anthropology. She was also an outstanding mathematician.

Source: Association Montessori Internationale, Amsterdam montessori-ami.org